Over the years, I’ve learned that love isn’t a meaningless word that should be thrown around willy-nilly without meaning it; neither is, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more,” the answer to “What is love?” Love is and isn’t many things, depending on your view and personal experiences. Like a fluid, it takes the shape of what one believes its form and size should be. To me, it is an entire culture, a somewhat mystical and intricate force that still has people trying to decode what it means, how it works, why some do the things they do when they claim to love a person and what they don’t do when they should. As with anything cultural, language plays a huge role. Put Love and Languages in the same sentence and boom! You have the five Love Languages, a concept borne by counsellor Dr Gary Chapman. I have been meaning to write about this for a while now, and I’m glad I’ve finally come round to actually doing it.
When I first came across the Love Languages almost three years ago, it was such a foreign concept to me, but once I read more into it, listened to the entire four-hour audiobook, and took the test, I discovered that, hey, wait a minute, this is pretty much the Rosetta Stone of relationships: an incredible tool that helps improve not only actual verbal and non-verbal communication between partners, but a panacea of potential conflict. Gary Chapman pretty much went above and beyond in proving that sometimes it’s not just a matter of speaking your partner’s language (it’s a bonus if you do), but understanding the language they speak. Yes, it’s true. That all-too-cliché saying of, “Quick to listen, slow to speak,” pretty much sums up the approach to dealing with this love language thing. As I mentioned earlier, there are five languages; the key is to identify your and your partner’s main languages and to learn how to understand them.
1. Quality Time
Naturally, I would start with my favourite Love Language and probably the one I’m most fluent in. Nothing beats some good ‘ole QT: full-on, raw, unadulterated, undivided attention. In the age we live in, this can be as simple as just being in the moment, having a picnic or taking a walk with no distractions from phones or anything else, pretty much being real. It’s always interesting to see the kind of conversations you have without having to express oneself sans hiding behind the façade of emojis and gifs. If anything, QT reveals all this in the best possible way. Although the book goes on to say that the ultimate QT is unplugged QT, I believe it’s basically doing the things you enjoy with your person including, yes, committing to watching a particular series together, still without distraction from phones and the sorts. Sharing a meal together or an exclusive date night can still count as QT and may be appreciated by a partner whose language requires attention from such.
2. Acts of Service
Sometimes in life, and especially in adulthood, you just need an extra hand. It’s always really awesome when your special someone gives you a hand, not only when you ask for it, but when it’s offered without having been asked. Whether it’s assisting with an assignment, being the ultimate sidekick when grabbing groceries, making a meal or simply changing a light bulb, acts of service are things that you know your partner would like you to do and would appreciate. Expressing love by serving your person may mean putting in a lot of thought, planning, effort and energy and if done in a positive spirit, may be a bold expression of love.
3. Physical Touch
*Insert intro music to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”*
Ok, before you think physical touch ultimately means sex, let me try and break it down for you so you have a better understanding in a languages context. A person fluent in physical touch is basically and unsurprisingly very touchy. A hug, a kiss, the holding of hands or a caress of the face can all be ways of expressing excitement, care and love. I feel, in any relationship, this is very crucial and for those who speak this language, a non-reciprocal partner and/or being in a long distance relationship that has an undefined time limit, may be quite the nightmare. Whenever I watch the mid-to-late seasons of The Big Bang Theory, I always empathise with Amy, who literally has to create circumstances for Sheldon to make physical contact with her, albeit through manipulation that results in situations where it’s unavoidable for him to touch her. Half the time I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, flailing my hands in the air yelling at the screen, “Kiss her already!” It’s a miracle she’s been with him for so long!
4. Words of Affirmation
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me!” In pre-school, this might have been the ultimate bully-proof mantra, but as we get older, words, both good and bad, seem to carry a lot more weight, hence the inclination for most to tiptoe around saying certain things in the pursuit of being politically correct. But what of unsaid words from a lover? You know when you start wondering if you actually mean something to someone, but can’t seem to fathom how he or she feels because they never really say it? Yes, there could be acts of service, which in some cases may come across as obligatory, but just that extra “you’re amazing,” all the way through the spectrum of affirmative words to “I love you,” may just be the difference between someone staying or leaving. For a lot of people, words of affirmation act as a re-enforcement of feelings towards a person and many need this to be expressed to feel loved.
5. Receiving Gifts
We all love things. For some, receiving a tangible gift like flowers, a phone or a holiday may mean a whole lot more than anything else their partner may do otherwise to express their love. This might not necessarily translate to materialism, but if you speak this language, the thoughtfulness of receiving a gift may mean that you are appreciated and worth the thought and sentiment put behind the particular gift. Basically, the gift symbolises the thought. Funny enough, gift giving is probably one of the easiest languages to learn, but one would have to be prudent enough to know what their partner likes so that the gift doesn’t miss the mark. It’s awesome to know that your partner is a gift receiver, but if they prefer expensive fragrances as opposed to the personalised “corny” gifts like letters and “love vouchers,” you might need to re-evaluate and get in tune with their preferred gift. It’s one thing to understand the language, but it’s another thing to understand the dialect.
It should be noted that you don’t necessarily have to speak the same language as your person, just understand the ones they are most fluent in. When I dug into the love languages, I came across a concept called love tanks. Basically, these fill up or empty out depending on whether or not the love language is understood and exercised or not. For example, if your partner’s main language is acts of service and they crave your assistance in various aspects of their life without having to be asked, and all you do is shower them with gifts, these gifts won’t mean as much. They may seem to be a cover-up of the absence of acts of service. In this example, it ironically empties the love tank and leads to frustration. Unless the partner understands this, the frustration will continue to hamper and eventually disintegrate the relationship. On the flipside, the giving partner may blindly and blissfully think he/she is actually doing the right thing, which to a certain extent is true, much like driving off in the wrong direction at full throttle – ignorance is bliss, right?
Sometimes, you might not be able to respond well to your partner’s love language because of certain circumstances. Maybe you’re not so touchy feely (like Sheldon) and your partner is, or you can’t be an actor of service because your occupation takes up most of your time. In this case, it would help to communicate and to find a way around or to reinforce understanding and execution of the other prominent Love Languages that can be worked on and make up for the “shortfall.” At the end of it all, and to know where you stand, the first step is to just take the test. A mini-evaluation may just be what you need!
Need more dating advice? Check out Miriam’s past article on Dating on Budget in Harare.